Rethinking Europe, Global HotSpots

Visions of Orwell in the Refugee Crisis

If we follow some of our politicians, the Middle Eastern refugee crisis threatens to turn us into pigs.

Credit: Alexandre Rotenberg


  • Right-wing governments try to make political hay out of Europe’s refugee crisis.
  • Sadly, the Middle Eastern refugee crisis has been a godsend for racists everywhere.
  • Britain is responsible for this wave of refugees, having participated in the invasion of Iraq.
  • The refugee crisis feeds nicely into Cameron’s plans to get the UK out of the EU.
  • Republicans in the US Congress are against allowing a single additional Syrian to America.
  • In keeping with Orwell’s writing, we should let Orban, Trump, Putin & Co. turn into pigs.

There is an old Chinese saying that even the longest journey begins with a small step.

For one family fleeing war at home and hoping to find shelter in Europe, the journey began with a trip. That was when a camerawoman working for Hungary’s nationalist TV channel tripped a man carrying a child on the Serbian border.

But what we have failed to see so far is that it is also our journey that began with that particular trip-up. It is a journey that, if some of our politicians have their way, could turn us from human beings into Orwellian pigs.

The channel fired the camerawoman, but the Hungarian government is squarely behind her. It has imposed a three-year jail sentence on refugees daring to enter the country illegally.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban doesn’t give a hoot about the refugees. He’s using them for his own purposes – to stir nationalist sentiments and historic hatred of Muslims – Hungary was under the Turkish rule for some 150 years until 1699.

The Hungary-Russia-Israel alliance

The Hungarians respond well to Orban’s belligerent nationalist rhetoric. His government has an overwhelming majority in parliament. An even more rabid party, Jobbik – whose platform revolves around a promise to kick the country’s sizable Roma minority out – is also quite popular.

In other countries with right-wing governments, the sentiment is depressingly similar. For instance in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin is enjoying an 86% support rating and seems set to rule for life. Or, more surprisingly, in Israel, where the Likud’s own Benjamin Netanyahu also looks like a lifelong leader.

In both countries, there has been undisguised display of Schadenfreude. Now those liberal Europeans, who have always counseled us so generously to behave better, will be hoisted on their own petards.

In this view, the Europeans will be overwhelmed by the ignorant and vicious Muslim hordes, they’ll suffer from terrorist attacks by jihadists, they’ll knock on Russia’s door begging it to let them move to Siberia, they’ll study Israel’s experience on how to keep those Muslims in check, etc.

Playing to humanity’s baser instincts

The refugee crisis has been a godsend for racists everywhere. The Internet is full of pictures showing Islamist refugees battling German cops and waving an ISIS banner (not true) and claims that ISIS, having planted hundreds of fighters among the refugees, is now shipping them arms (not supported by any evidence).

National leaders in some countries are also capitalizing on the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment. Denmark has closed its border with Germany.

Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Baltic states, faithful to their Soviet heritage, are extremely reluctant to resettle any Syrians. And refugees have been warning each other to stay clear of Bulgaria, where early arrivals have been hunted down by thugs.

In the UK, David Cameron plans to accept 20,000 refugees over the next five years – not those living in camps or still trying to get out, mind you, but who have already reached the safety of Europe.

This is the same Britain, of course, that bears a singular co-responsibility for this wave of refugees, having participated in George W. Bush’s wanton invasion of Iraq – the most important factor bringing ISIS to life.

Cameron accompanied his “generous” offer by declaring that this shows Britons’ well-known compassion. In the language of the Internet, this is called trolling. And, in fact, Cameron is trolling Brussels: the refugee crisis feeds nicely into his plans to get the UK out of United Europe.

U.S. message to world: Our “boat is full”

And then there is the United States. There is no chance of the Republican Congress ever voting to allow a single additional Syrian to America.

In light of the orgy of anti-immigrant scaremongering unleashed by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Barack Obama’s decision to resettle 10,000 looks almost quixotic.

Even without any Syrians or Iraqis coming to the United States, the Donald has already succeeded in turning a sizeable portion of the American electorate into pigs.

The analogy with the pigs from George Orwell’s Animal Farm is remarkably apt. Those pigs had been ordinary farm animals on Farmer Jones’ farm — until they led an animal rebellion and ensconced themselves as new masters in the manor house, exploiting their fellow-beasts.

The truth is that pretty much every modern nation has suffered from wars, invasions and religious persecution, forcing families to flee their homes and rely on the kindness of strangers. We forget this at our own peril.

Selfishness galore

Israel is the most blatant example. A nation that emerged from the tragedy of the European Jewry isn’t going to take a single refugee from its closest neighbor, Syria, fleeing from its mortal enemies, ISIS and Bashar al-Assad.

Russians, meanwhile, should also keep in mind that, after the Bolshevik revolution and the civil war, two million of their countrymen were accommodated by the rest of the world.

An unknown number were resettled after World War II, as well, as they fled the brutality of Stalin’s regime. Starting in the 1990s, there has been a massive economic migration out of Russia, too.

And of course the Donald is himself a descendent of refugees or economic migrants – as are the overwhelming majority of his supporters.

The German exception – and other ones

Fortunately, not everyone is willing to eat at this particular trough. Germany, mindful of a stream of its people expelled from Eastern Europe and East Prussia after the war, and a trickle of refugees coming over during the post-war decades from East Germany, Kazakhstan and elsewhere, is throwing its doors open.

Serbia and Croatia, which also suffered great population displacements only two decades ago, are offering safe passage. In the United States, a group of Democratic congressional leaders and presidential candidate Martin O’Malley called on Obama to accept many more refugees.

And in Hungary, too, ordinary people have come out to help the Syrians. Ferenc Gyurcsany, a former prime minister, opened his home to a Syrian family. His wife and five kids unanimously supported his decision.

Perhaps, in keeping with Orwell’s writing, we could be redeemed by these and other acts of kindness, letting Orban, Trump, Putin and their ilk turn into pigs if they so wish.

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About Alexei Bayer

Alexei Bayer is the Eastern Europe Editor of The Globalist. [United States]

Responses to “Visions of Orwell in the Refugee Crisis”

Archived Comments.

  1. On September 18, 2015 at 7:16 am Axxcexx responded with... #

    Hungary is the only government protecting its people right now from the pigs that are trying to invade Europe. Pigs yes, don’t believe me? Look how every country looks like after the illegal immigrants have left. Nasty!

  2. On September 19, 2015 at 8:36 am Kuttappan Vijayachandran responded with... #

    The World is cracking under the rule of Knowledge Workers: Their ideology as well a the political economy shaped up be WB-IMF-WTO trio need to be challenged.

  3. On September 19, 2015 at 8:54 am Elena responded with... #

    Mr. Alexei Bayer is very quick to condemn Israel for not taking in any Syrians fleeing the civil war. Is he being funny?
    If any places should open the doors, the whole Arab communities are the ones, especially the rich gulf countries but the Syrians know better that they will not be allowed first, to enter, and then to get jobs, so Europe with its welfare asylum wyste is the right place to travel to.
    Do you believe for a moment that the Syrians are interested in coming to Israel? Not because they are Muslims, but because they were fed for decades deep hatred towards that country, which they consider their enemy.
    What about Jordan and Lebanon? They have arrived there, but they are allowed to live in tents without any chance to get jobs or any welfare disbursements.
    Germany and Sweden are the destination, why? because asylum seekers receive a stipendium as soon as they enter the country. Would the Germans and Swedes enjoy the welcome for long? I am not so sure.

  4. On September 19, 2015 at 1:30 pm Denes responded with... #

    Don’t be fooled by Ferenc Gyurcsany. He did accept that immigrant family into his home only for political propaganda and to “show” that he is in contradiction with the Orban government.

  5. On September 19, 2015 at 1:37 pm Denes responded with... #

    One more thing: Hungary is a Schengen area country and is obligated to defend the outside borders of the area. In doing so the country faces only criticism. We live (unfortunately) in an era in which the ones who uphold the law are criticized.

  6. On September 19, 2015 at 5:27 pm bostonmaggie responded with... #

    What a load of rubbish this is! Are people like the author ever going to stop blaming George Bush for every problem the world has? He did not create ISIS. The truly evil members of ISIS always existed and they came out from under their rocks when they saw a dishearted America lose the will to fight that evil. America can thank Obama’s happy talk and a complicit media for that.
    As far as these “refugees” go, a significant number aren’t fleeing war and they aren’t even Syrian. They are, by nearly half opportunists trying to get to the sweetest welfare deal in the EU possible. And it’s all well and good to pick on Hungary until you want to admit that they are a poor country compared to Germany. They are just trying to stay above water as wave after wave of people flood their country.
    And the mere suggestion that Israel should take in ONE person who lives by the words “Death to Israel” is nauseating.
    Hungary is a lifeboat, you gain nothing by swamping it.

  7. On September 20, 2015 at 1:27 am asiabugle responded with... #

    Surely whole point of supporting democracy is that eventually to people get their way. If we ever want Syria to be democratic we have to make certain it still has a population of ordinary people to make that happen. If we allow all the ordinary people to flee the country who is going the resolve the issues in their country?

  8. On September 20, 2015 at 5:30 am AbuAbuka responded with... #

    Slaughter in Africa goes on for years with MILLIONS being killed and MILLIONS displaced. So how many of those people did Mr. Bayer take into his household ? This article is just another example of grandstanding and political correctness that does not bode well for the European continent. A positive side of his opus is that I do not have to visit this WEB site any longer. Thanks.

  9. On September 21, 2015 at 5:21 am morning news responded with... #

    I take exception to the statement in your article, Mr. Bayer – “It has imposed a three-year jail sentence on refugees daring to enter the country illegally” – referring to Hungary. Please make sure you get the facts before making inflammatory statements. While a jail sentence is a possibility to those breaking the law, to date, no one has been given a jail sentence, but were expelled from Hungary for a given period, usually 1-2 years. Surely you would agree that if laws are broken, some form of retaliation follows. This obviously depends on the gravity of the crime, which are applied to all citizens alike, Hungarians and non-Hungarians. In any case,if what you claim would be true, Hungary does not have enough jails to place the protesting illegal migrants/refugees. Also, you might find it interesting to dig deeper into the numbers of where the migrants are coming from, and blatantly claim their right to a better economic opportunity, not for refuge from harm. Hungary has never said it would not consider people being processed as refugees, which in fact it has done, aside from any quota issue, but the emphasis is on processing any and all who enter the EU, which, unfortunately most of these people do not want to do. Until you know who wants to enter a country (or the EU in this case), legitimacy to refugee status has to be determined. In a pack, the migrants have the group mentality of a 6 year old child who is having a bad tantrum. However, since they are adults, they should be able to understand (since they are not in danger in Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary), that it takes time to process 200,000+ migrants, especially when passports and identification cards are thrown away. Please do not add false rhetoric making a complex and difficult situation worse. You are not helping or doing justice to your profession. By the way, how come Germany did not provide a direct transport to those it has agree to accept, arranging for their welcome
    (i.e. buses, planes)? Then these people would have gotten to where they want to go without the frustration of applying for status, waiting, etc.

  10. On September 22, 2015 at 7:58 pm RightPaddock responded with... #

    Crap – Cameron has said the UK will take 20,000 direct from refugee camps over 5 years, what he won’t take is any that have ‘walked’ into the Shengen Zone. Is that enough – no.

    If European countries, (including the UK and Ireland) had refugee resettlement programs such as those in US, Canada, NZ, Australia and elsewhere, then this crisis may not have happened.

    Those refugee resettlement programs were largely developed post WW2 to handle European refugees. Including UK and Ireland refugees, whereby Commonwealth accepted the ‘unwanted’ children that the UK deported, and in Australia’s case the £10 Assisted Passage program. They’ve since handled vast numbers of refugees from Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere.

    Given how many people from Europe benefited from these programs one might have imagined when the same countries got back on there feet they might have stepped up to the plate. Today’s mass migration into Europe is a direct consequence of Europe’s laissez faire attitude to immigration over the last 70 years.

  11. On September 24, 2015 at 12:14 pm kadr responded with... #

    Europe is, indeed, striving towards solidarity. But everyone who looks understands that this is an aspiration, not a given–not in the past, not now, not in the future. And what’s with that “historical preference for looting, plundering, and marauding”?!!! Who are you talking about? Europe? To say that if Europe had had refugee settlement programs the crisis might not have happened is pure naive. And let’s see here, how many Syrian refugees–the majority of the people thronging at EU’s borders–has US accepted? I read some numbers that out of the 65,000 refugees or so the US accepted last year, only about 1,250 were Syrians. And as The Globalist’s own Stephan Richter hinted recently at the Diane Rehm show, those just may have been mainly Christians. Very, very wary is US in accepting anyone and everyone.